Analysis | the electoral system of The United Kingdom has failed

the most important question of the modern history of the United Kingdom (whether or not in the European Union) the electoral system british produced an absurd r

Analysis | the electoral system of The United Kingdom has failed

the most important question of the modern history of the United Kingdom (whether or not in the European Union) the electoral system british produced an absurd result. A majority of the country's population wants to stay in the EU, and indeed in the parliamentary election of December 12, voted for parties that expressed such a preference. But the election gave a large majority to the Conservative Party, which promotes a rapid exit of the block. The reason is as simple as troubling: the inability of electoral systems single-member to convert the public opinion into results reasonably representative.

In an electoral system, uninominal, each seat legislative is what is the candidate receiving the most votes in the district, although it is not of the majority. So when the majority opinion is divided between several parties, the prevailing minority view a minority of the votes.
by way of simple example, assume that there are three parties: pro-european‑1, pro-european‑2 and Brexiteros. Suppose also that in each district, 66% of the population want to remain in the EU, and 34% want to leave, and that the voters of the first group are equally divided between its two parties. Pro-european‑1 and pro-european‑2 each receive 33% of the votes in each district, but Brexiteros get the seat in the district with 34% of the votes. If this result is repeated in all districts, Brexiteros will be 100% of the seats with 34% of the national vote. In contrast, in a system of proportional representation to national party pro-european would get 66% of the seats and form Government.

of course, the real situation in the Uk is more complex. The Brexit was not the only campaign issue, and eleven games (not just three) were at least 0.4% of the votes at the national level. Of those eleven games, eight (the Labour party, the Scottish National Party, the liberaldemócratas, Sinn Féin, Plaid Cymru, the social Democratic Party and Labour party, the Green Party and the Party Alliance of Northern Ireland) campaigned in favor of calling a second referendum (a “popular vote”) or directly stay in the EU. Only three of the eleven parties campaigned for the exit of the block without a second referendum: the conservative, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Party of the Brexit.

In total, the eleven parties received 98.6% of the votes, and a multitude of other smaller parties gained 1.4% remaining. The eight parties favorable to stay in the EU, or to call another referendum received 52.2% of the votes, while the three parties favorable to come out of the block without a second referendum received 46.4%. But the three-party pro‑Brexit were 373 seats, against only 277 for parties who prefer to stay in the EU or the call for a new plebiscite.

This result is due to two reasons. In the first place, the vote pro‑Brexit concentrated almost all in a single party, the Conservative, who received 94% of the total of those votes. The labour, in contrast, earned only 61% of the total votes of the eight games contrary to the Brexit or that they would call a second referendum. Prime minister Boris Johnson joined the brexiteros; the leader of labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, divided the pro-european.

The second reason is that due to the system uninominal, the vast majorities (70% or more) achieved by parties pro-european in some districts (for example, London and Scotland) were basically votes wasted, as the party in question takes a single seat. In a system of proportional representation, these votes would have added to the percentage of the party at the national level.

The percentage of votes cast in the referendum agree with the latest opinion polls relating to the Brexit. In a survey particularly eloquent, made just before the election, the pro-european and exceeded the brexiteros by 53% against the 47%. A majority of voters want to stay in the EU, but the electoral system produced a massive parliamentary majority favourable to the exit.

The United Kingdom is only one of a handful of democracies in high-income, where the use of the system uninominal (the others are the united States and Canada, who inherited it from London). If the Uk had a system of national representation is proportional, as nearly all of continental Europe, would go the way of calling a second referendum for the Brexit and stay in the EU. It is likely that the results of the election would have produced a coalition Government contrary to a Brexit fast. Another obvious problem, more difficult to solve, is that young people are mostly supporters of staying in the EU, while voters older want to leave; so that the seconds are imposing on young people a future that they do not want, and whose consequences will certainly affect you for the rest of their lives.

It has been said that the voting mechanism uninominal promotes political stability, to produce systems bi-partisan or almost bi-partisan. The two major parties in the Uk have received 76% of the vote and will have 87% of the seats. But it is an illusory stability. Is obtained at the price of a Government in which a minority can trample on the interests and preferences of more than half of the population. And when that happens, the result is the political polarization of the society.

In continental Europe, most governments are coalitions multi-party. Perhaps they are difficult to build, complex to maintain and slow to act. But the same process of formation of coalitions in multiparty prevents a small minority take all the political prize against the wishes of a large part of the population.

The situation is even more dangerous in the united States, where the presidential elections and installed an Executive powerful with dominion over a legislature's bi-partisan. The system has three major flaws. In the first place, the two parties do not represent well the public opinion, above all, by the way plutocrática that funded the campaigns for the legislative elections in the united STATES. In the second place, it gives too much power to a single individual. And, third, the peculiarities of the Electoral College make it possible for the victory of a candidate who took fewer votes than his opponent, as happened in two of the last five presidential elections. In 2016, Donald Trump got 57% of the votes in the Electoral College, despite having gained 2.8 million votes less than Hillary Clinton.

As I have written in another article, and as confirmed by the last election in the Uk, the two major democracies of anglo-saxon are not working well. But the cause of this malfunction is not only that the electorate andsté polarized, but also the electoral system, uninominal, which produces Governments that are not representative of public opinion.


Jeffrey D. Sachs is professor of Sustainable Development, professor of Management and Health Policy and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University
© Project Syndicate 1995-2019
Translation: Esteban Flamini

Updated Date: 05 January 2020, 17:00

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